Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) issued an interim decision today for a petition filed by Peace Now against the funding of Amana, a key driver of settlement expansion and illegal outpost construction. Following the state’s repeated requests to postpone its reply to the petition Chief Justice Esther Hayut declared that any state authority seeking to transfer funds to Amana would require approval from the court before transferring the actual money. The judges further indicated that upon addressing such a case, they would discuss, and make a decision regarding, Peace Now’s request for an interim injunction to completely prevent the transfer of funds to Amana.
Following a lengthy investigation conducted by the Peace Now’s Settlement Watch team, which revealed that local settlement authorities (e.g. from the Binyamin Regional Council) had funneled tens of millions of shekels in improper financial support to Amana each year, Peace Now filed a petition in February 2019 with former Ministers Yossi Beilin, Ran Cohen and Ophir Pines-Paz to cut such funding.
The petition’s main claims, filed by Attorney Michael Sfard, rest on the fact that funding Amana is contrary to the Ministry of Interior’s regulations and is therefore illegal. Moreover, based on extensive information provided by the Settlement Watch team, Amana is a prime investor in illegal outposts, among other illicit settlement activity, and there is genuine concern that some of its funds come from Israeli taxpayer money via subsidy procedures.
In July of 2019, an HCJ hearing was held on the petition, during which the judges discussed the legal challenges in transferring funds to Amana via the Ministry of Interior’s subsidy procedures. As Amana is not a nonprofit but rather a “cooperative association,” it may not legally receive subsidies via local authorities to promote and develop settlements (let alone the fact that it illegally funds outposts).
In early August, the court issued an order nisi to the state and local settlement authorities demanding that they explain within 45 days why such financial transfers to Amana should not cease. The imposition of this provisional order indicates that the court deems the transfer of funds illegal.
The respondent (the state) then began a series of requests to postpone its response. The hard deadline determined by the judges was initially for the end of January 2020, but in late December of 2019 the state requested yet another postponement.
After Peace Now challenged this request, the court decided that until a final ruling on the petition, the transfer of funds to Amana by local authorities in 2020 must be brought before the court for approval. In practice, this entails that the court will oversee state funding to Amana for the coming year, until a verdict is reached. Since no state funds have thus far been given to Amana for 2020, there is not yet any transfer of money to trigger an interim injunction; had there been such a transfer for 2020 then the court would have already considered whether to issue one.
This is in line with HCJ ruling: “As soon as any of respondents 3-9 decide to transfer support money to the 10th respondent for the 2020 fiscal year, the court will be notified within 7 days of the decision, prior to the transfer of funds, such that the petitioners’ request for an interim injunction may be discussed.”
Peace Now: “Amana is the most significant organization operating in the settlements. For decades, it has overseen the establishment of dozens of illegal outposts and neighborhoods with the help of massive budgets, some of which have been transferred from Israeli taxpayer money through local settlement authorities in violation of the law. The judges’ decision is a dramatic yet necessary step that limits, for the time being, this illicit transfer of funds to illegal projects in the settlements and outposts. We hope that in this spirit, the court will rule that public funds should no longer be transferred to Amana via subsidy procedures. This situation in which the State of Israel backs illegal activities with public funds is unconscionable, and we urge the Israeli government to put an end to it.”